Crisis with the western neighbour? Davutoğlu cancels visit to Bulgaria

In a move that puts a strain on Turkey’s relations with Bulgaria, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who has a foreign policy of “zero problems with neighbors,” has canceled his visit to Sofia only couple days before it was scheduled to take place because no appointment was granted with Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev.

Davutoğlu’s two-day visit was scheduled to take place on Feb. 6-7. Talking to diplomatic sources, Today’s Zaman learned that Davutoğlu decided to cancel his visit when he learned that he would not be able to meet with Plevneliev due to tight scheduling.

“Along with his counterpart (Bulgarian Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin), Davutoğlu requested to meet the Bulgarian President. When he was told that a meeting with the president would not be possible, he canceled the visit,” a source who asked not to be named told Today’s Zaman on Monday.

The decision has seemed to create a bit of disappointment and is perceived as “arrogant” by the Bulgarian authorities, according to sources who spoke to Today’s Zaman. The regular procedure for a foreign minister is to meet only with his or her counterpart.

“Foreign Minister Davutoğlu’s visit was postponed reciprocally. A new date will be determined,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgiç told Today’s Zaman on Tuesday. When told that postponing Davutoğlu’s visit just couple days before the planned date seems strange, Bilgiç responded that these days, the speed of communications technology often leads to last-minute schedule changes.

The visit was going to take place upon the invitation of Vigenin, Today’s Zaman learned. The two foreign ministers came together in December of last year, when Davutoğlu attended the 29th Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) meeting in Yerevan. Davutoğlu had a tete-à-tete with Vigenin and congratulated him on Bulgaria winning the BSEC presidency for the next term. According to news agency reports, Davutoğlu said Turkey and Bulgaria can work together much more closely under Bulgaria’s BSEC presidency. Vigenin also reportedly underlined that Bulgaria placed importance on cooperation with Turkey.

Reports said that Davutoğlu and Vigenin mainly discussed bilateral ties between their two countries. The situation in the Balkans and the Syrian crisis were also discussed during the foreign ministers’ meeting. The main topics of the talks were going to be extending bilateral cooperation on economy, security and politics and regional cooperation, “…as two neighbors, allies and friends in the region,” another source, speaking under the condition of anonymity told Today’s Zaman on Tuesday.

The “dozvola” crisis with Bulgaria

Although the diplomatic sources and Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman have not raised this issue as a possible reason for the postponement of Davutoğlu’s visit, Turkey’s trade to Europe has recently been experiencing hard times amid a worsening crisis over clearance certificates (dozvola), which allow trucks carrying goods to pass through Bulgaria.

Truck drivers bound for Bulgaria or other European countries with exported goods have started to park their vehicles in parking areas around border crossings while they wait for the problems to be sorted out. Some truck drivers are said to be moving to Greek border crossings or sea routes. In the meantime, however, exporters complain that money is being lost with every moment that passes without a solution.

The dozvola crisis began when Bulgaria issued only 5,000 clearance certificates despite mutual agreements requiring 250,000 of these permits to be given to trucks originating in Turkey. As a reaction, the Turkish Ministry of Transportation closed the Kapıkule border post to Bulgarian trucks crossing into Turkey, which in turn triggered retaliation as Bulgaria closed the Kapitan Andreevo border crossing even for trucks using the Bulgarian route only to reach other European destinations.

The İstanbul-based Economic Development Foundation (İKV) made a statement on Tuesday saying that Bulgaria preventing the transit of Turkish trucks is against the rules of the European Union Customs Union (EUCU) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The İKV said that the European Commission needs to make Bulgaria end the dozvola crisis and called on the Turkish companies to go to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to ask for compensation from Bulgaria for their losses.